HOW WE STARTED…
In the early 1990’s, Fr. Don Vettese, S.J., the president of St. John’s Jesuit High School in Toledo traveled to Guatemala City with a team of St. John’s students on a service immersion trip. After getting diverted by traffic on a ride through the city, they ended up on the outskirts of the city’s garbage dump and were astonished by the horrific conditions that surrounded them.
After their service trip ended and the students returned to school, they couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something that they should do. When they went to Fr. Vettese to ask what they should do, he encouraged them to write a letter to the mayor of Guatemala City asking how they could help. They did, and he responded, indicating the most important thing they could do would be to help people in the community access better housing.
Fr. Vettese turned to his good friends, the late Bill Pulte and his wife, Karen Pulte, to ask for their support. Bill had built the largest home construction company in the United States, and he and Karen made a major gift to a housing community for people working in the dump. A group of students from St. John’s Jesuit return the next year to help build that housing, and their school has returned every years since.
More importantly, Fr. Vettese and Karen and Bill Pulte continued to work together for the next 25 years, asking how they can help and then responding as Jesus instructed us 2,000 years ago when asked by a lawyer how we should love our neighbor (Luke 10:25-37). Other faithful families helped to pioneer the way, including the Mathiles, Vatterotts, Lydens, Stranahans, Flascks, Lindseys, and Weingartzes, along with Scott Savage and the late Mary Lou Fox, making significant investments through the years to expand and sustain our reach. The Jesuits, and the people who lead our work in each nation, also paved the way for our growth.
Dozens of school partners and thousands of people have continued to respond to Christ’s challenge through the years by traveling with us or financially supporting our mission. They have walked hand-in-hand with people in garbage dump communities around the world to help them break out of poverty—a journey made possible by the faithfulness, service and generosity of Fr. Vettese and Karen and Bill Pulte.
Fr. Vettese retired in 2018, after faithfully leading and growing International Samaritan for 25 years. His reflection on the Holy Spirit’s presence in our origins and work can be found here.
Also in 2018, Bill Pulte passed away. His memory lives on in our work and impact every day. You can read our Memorial Tribute to him here.
Karen Pulte continues to help guide and grow our organization officially as an Emeritus member of our Board of Trustees and unofficially as the heart of International Samaritan.
Fr. Vettese, S.J.
International Samaritan is a nonprofit organization with the designation 501(c)(3). Our headquarters is located in Ann Arbor Michigan.